Power pop pride from Perth
Interview by Robert Pally
The Stanleys are a talented and energetic trio from Perth, Australia. On their self-titled debut, they offer 11 fresh and exciting power pop songs with catchy melodies. In this interview, their singer and bass player Mark Di Renzo (also in Gigantic) speaks about Kiss, the music scene in Perth, why they called themselves The Stanleys, getting everything right on the record, working with Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star, R.E.M.), not-so-profound power pop lyrics and why he wanted to become a musician.
PSF: Do you come out of a musical family?
MDR: You could say that – the furthest we have traced our musical history is back to my grandfather, Giovanni (on my dad's side), who played bugle in the Italian Army in the Second World War. His wife, Yolanda, had aspirations of being an opera singer but was never given the opportunity to do so, living through the Great Depression and migrating to Australia for greener pastures.
My dad Charlie built his first guitar with he was 16 and still plays a little guitar but more keyboards now. He ran a music business for many years with music studios, his own brand of speaker enclosures (which I use – Di Renzo Custom Sound), road cases etc. and at the age of 74, he still is active in some of the aforementioned activities. He attends every gig we play in our home town and makes a very good roadie and we are currently building a couple of new music studios for me and my brothers.
My younger brother Paul played drums on about half the Stanleys album, co-wrote quite a few songs on the album with us and played with me in my previous band Gigantic. My older brother John played guitar on about half the Stanleys album too, though (on) the opposite half that Paul played on! John has done plenty of touring with me. He plays in the live line-up of The Stanleys and together, we have toured the US ten times, Europe five times, Japan and China a couple of times each as well as multiple tours of Australia and New Zealand. My brother Andrew plays a little (a very good bass player) and dabbles in trading vintage music equipment.So I guess that's a yes!
PSF: Who was the first band you really loved?
MDR: KISS and the first album I bought was Destroyer on cassette. I loved the sing-along, catchy melodies, guitars and the awesome make-up and costumes!
PSF: What was the first song you really loved?
MDR: I honestly can't remember the “first" song but the Beatles, KISS and lots of cheesy pop are in my early musical memories.
PSF: What made you wanna become a musician?
MDR: It's always been about having fun playing and creating the music. If you're not into music for the right reasons, there's no way you will last the distance. When you're a green teenager, you might think it's going to help you be a little more popular with the girls or like the idea of fame and fortune, but it's the music that keeps you coming back despite all the difficulties and knock backs you get as an indie musician. I'm really glad I've stuck at it otherwise, I would have missed out on so many wonderful experiences and a hell of a lot of fun!
PSF: What was the first band you played in?
MDR: My first band was the school band in primary school. The music ranged from everything from swing and jazzy stuff to more upbeat ‘50's and ‘60's music but no power pop.
PSF: What was the first song you wrote and what was it about?
MDR: It may not be the very first song I wrote but the first one I can really remember was about a car and a girl I was very fond of at the time. The car was a Ford Escort. I guess not much has changed since I was a teenager because I'm still writing plenty of songs about girls and cars.
PSF: In what other bands did you, James Horsburgh and Tomas Dahl play before?
MDR: My most known previous band was Gigantic – the core of which was my brother Paul and I. Gigantic played a slightly more polished and produced brand of pop and were lucky enough to sign licensing deals with labels in Spain and the US and tour over there as well as quite a few other places in Europe and Japan. Jamie played in an early line up of Gigantic but Jamie had a break from music for a few years and had left Gigantic before we had started venturing into overseas territories.
Tomas has played in quite a few bands including the Yum Yums and probably most well known, Turbo Negro. He has his own solo studio project under the name Caddy and is working on a new album at the moment.
PSF: How come the Norwegian Tomas Dahl landed in your band?
MDR: I was on tour with Gigantic in Japan towards the end of Gigantic's career when someone recommended Caddy to me as music I would enjoy. I did enjoy the first Caddy album a lot. Tomas and I connected on MySpace and essentially began writing a few songs over the internet with no real agenda other than to write great power pop songs we loved. After separating from his wife at the time (around 2010), Jamie was interested in getting back into music and that became the start of The Stanleys.
PSF: The Stanleys are mainly from Perth. How prosperous is the music scene there? Is there a dominating music style?
MDR: Like many big cities, Perth has many, many bands competing for a very small pool of gigs, exposure and opportunities. The scene is healthy as far as abundance of talent but it is very tough to break through. I'm not sure if there is really a dominating music style, perhaps electronic-influenced music is doing a little better than other genres. But power pop is certainly not “in fashion" right now and there are very few bands here that play power pop.
PSF: How come you call yourself The Stanleys?
MDR: I'm a little rusty as to how we got to the final decision right now but I know I felt The Stanleys sounded very power pop which we are all about and there are a couple of KISS fans amongst us so there's got to be some Paul Stanley in the mix!
PSF: What is different or better with The Stanleys compared to your earlier bands?
MDR: If I compare The Stanleys to Gigantic (which I was a part of for some 11 years before The Stanleys), both are bands in the power pop family. However, I feel Gigantic's music was a little more produced and the melodies a little less immediate. People have said to me that Gigantic's music sounds more influenced by ‘90's power pop whereas The Stanleys are more influenced by late ‘70's/ early ‘80's power pop sounds. I feel The Stanleys melodies are a little catchier and there's definitely more vocal harmony in this band. I'm proud of the work of both bands and from time to time, we play some Gigantic songs as part of our Stanleys live set.
PSF: Why has the recording of your debut taken so long?
MDR: There are probably quite a few reasons for this. The geography of Australia vs Norway was one factor. Tomas did come to Perth to do some recording with Jamie and I and my brother John, I went to Oslo to do some sessions with Tomas, and I also did the sessions with Ken Stringfellow in Paris at his home studio. We also had our separate Aussie and Norway sessions.
The usual life factors of day jobs, children being born and the like were also contributing factors. The other reason was the fact we were enjoying touring so much. Before the album came out, we'd actually toured the US six times, Europe a couple of times, China a couple of times as well as Japan.
The final reason was probably me being super fussy about getting everything right on the record. I didn't want it released until I knew it was the best we could possibly make it. We got there in the end and we're really happy with the album. We have been very lucky to have so much lovely feedback and support from so may people around the world and for this we are very grateful.
PSF: How did you wind up working with Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star, REM)?
MDR: I've been quite a fan of Ken's work over the years, he liked The Stanleys early demos and invited me to stay at his apartment in Paris to work on a couple of songs when our schedules allowed. It was a great excuse to jump on a plane and pick up a few production tips. Ken played some great keys on “Say You Will" and sang some punchy backing vocals on “Kid's Gonna Rock." It was an absolute pleasure working with him and great to see another side of Paris through the eyes of someone who actually lives there. I almost felt like a local!
PSF: What elements must a good pop song have for you?
MDR: My idea of a good pop song is one that has catchy melodies, lush harmonies and crunching guitars. I think melody is the number one ingredient and the rest follows.
PSF: Which is your favourite song from your debut?
MDR: That's a tough one. It changes all the time, especially in a live context where a crowd's reaction can often slant your view on a song on that particular night. It was very important to me that we create an album that was (in our view) full of strong songs rather than a couple of singles and a bunch of filler which I feel can be the case more often than we'd like in today's modern music digital world. I really do see each of the songs as if they were one of your fingers or thumbs. They're all part of a set and you don't want to lose any of them.
PSF: What other band inspire you?
MDR: There are so many artists that in some way touch you musically along the way and too many to mention. Perhaps to name a few, we could say the Beatles, Cheap Trick, the Ramones, Fountains of Wayne, Hoodoo Gurus and Perth's own DM3.
PSF: How come you landed with your debut CD in the US on the label Pop Detective Records?
MDR: We have been lucky enough to have the album released via three labels – Australia label Off the Hip Records, Spanish Label, Rock Indiana and US label, Pop Detective Records.
We first connected with Mark (Hershberger) from Pop Detective back in 2012 when we played a mini pop festival called Rocktoberfest on the outskirts of Cleveland Ohio. There were three Pop Detective acts on the bill (including the Dahlmanns, who we have recently released a Split 7" with). Mark really enjoyed our set and asked us to send him our music when it was ready. We did keep him waiting a little while but once the album was done, I sent it over and the rest is history.
It's an honour to be on such a cool label alongside some of my favourite modern power pop bands including the Jellybricks and the Dahlmanns. Mark has done a fantastic job of letting everybody know about the release Stateside.
PSF: What does success mean for you?
MDR: I think success is really about being happy doing what you're doing. That can be in any field you choose. For me, finishing an album and being proud of what we've created is a wonderful feeling and success itself despite the views of others. When other people like it too, as they have done, it's an amazing bonus!
PSF: Power pop is not known for profound lyrics. Do you agree on that? And what is your most personal song on your debut?
MDR: I mostly agree with that. Classic power pop themes are girls and cars but occasionally, we do see songwriters in our genre dealing with heavier themes.
The most common topics for The Stanleys revolve around people and relationships and this probably comes easiest because we are in contact with others every day. But there are also songs on the album about the cons of the modern online world, cars, dancing and the quest to follow your dreams. I think it's best just to let the ideas and topics come out naturally rather than specifically trying to manufacture something.
I'm not sure how personal the songs are. Personal experience definitely flows into my writing but mostly I feel more like I'm stepping into the role of the character of the song rather than me telling one of my own personal stories.
PSF: You did your live debut in Los Angeles?
MDR: Yes we sure did. My previous band Gigantic had spoken to David Bash about playing his International Pop Overthrow Festival but despite touring the US 3 times, we never quite made it. When a few promoters had heard I had new band in the making and was looking to debut the band at IPO LA, offers started coming in to play overseas. We booked and played shows in the US, Europe and Japan before we had even played Australia. That tour was called ‘Introducing The Stanleys,' a mini world tour of sorts It was a fun way to introduce the band to the world!
PSF: What are your plans for the future?
MDR: In coming months we'll be releasing our song “Everybody Dance" as the next single off the album with a new music video and we'll be on the road again. We'll be playing Europe this May with dates in the UK, Sweden, Germany and Spain. I can't wait!
Discography: The Stanleys The Stanleys (Australia: Off The Hip Records / US: Pop Detective Records)
Also see their website: www.thestanleys.com.au and their Facebook page
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